BOSTON -- One of the reasons Carmelo Anthony was brought to New York was to help the Knicks unseat the Celtics as the Atlantic Division's best team. They took another step toward that Tuesday night.
J.R. Smith scored 32 points and Anthony had 29, leading the Knicks to a 100-85 victory over Boston, which was without Kevin Garnett.
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The Knicks' fifth straight win gave them a 21/2 game lead over the Nets in the Atlantic. The Knicks also basically knocked out Boston with their second win in TD Garden this season. The Celtics are 71/2 back.
"We want to beat them," Anthony said. "Let's just be quite frank about it: We always want to beat Boston. New York in anything wants to beat Boston. When we do it, it's a great feeling."
The Celtics have owned the division and the Knicks.
Boston had won the last five Atlantic Division titles. It also swept the Knicks out of the first round of the 2011 playoffs, Anthony's first postseason with the team.
But this was the first time the Knicks (43-26) won twice in the same season in Boston since 2003-04. They're shooting for their first division title since 1994. The Knicks are a season-high 17 games over .500 and have their highest win total since 2000-01, when they went 48-34.
"We're just making progress as a team, as an organization, having something to look forward to on a year-to-year basis," Anthony said. "Being up there on the top of that division and trying to make our way and make a statement."
The game lacked the usual intensity of a Knicks-Celtics' battle because key players were missing, including Tyson Chandler, who remains out with a bulging disc in his neck. He probably won't play Wednesday night, either.
But the Knicks played strong defense and dominated from the second quarter on.
They ended the first half on a 23-9 run and led by 14. They withstood a Celtics' charge in the third and finished it off outscoring Boston 15-7 to lead 84-69 after Smith drilled a long three at the buzzer. The Knicks led by double figures during the last 15:45.
"We're starting to play a little bit how we played early in the year in terms of letting our defense dictate how we play," Mike Woodson said. "And then offensively we've been flowing and sharing the basketball."
The win put the Knicks back in second in the East, percentage points ahead of the Pacers. The Celtics (36-34) are in seventh, so these two teams could meet in the playoffs. But the intensity will be much different because Chandler and Garnett will play in those games.
Garnett is out because of inflammation in his left ankle. The Celtics plan to give him about two weeks to rest, so he likely will miss Sunday's matchup when these two teams meet again in the Garden.
Rajon Rondo is out for the season after tearing his ACL. Ray Allen is with Miami now. Only Paul Pierce played for the team that has been the Knicks' chief rivals over the last few years, and he had a relatively quiet night, finishing with 16 points.
Smith gave the Knicks the spark they needed off the bench. He hit a variety of off-balance shots and didn't settle as much for jumpers. He went to the basket and scored inside en route to 21 first-half points. He was 13-for-24 and grabbed seven rebounds. Anthony wasn't as efficient. He took 30 shots and hit only 10.
"[It was] a great road win for us, especially here in this arena," Anthony said. "We know how hostile it can get in here knowing how well they play here at home in front of their fans. It says a lot about our team at this moment."